Saturday, June 22, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 42 - Publishing: Marvel Comics

This transaction combines Marvel’s strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney’s creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories.  Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value.  We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney.

We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.
Bob Iger, Disney CEO, August 31, 2009

Disney Publishing Worldwide represents the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Company.  Incorporated in 1992 as the Disney Publishing Group, it contained the already created Disney Press, Hyperion Books, and Hyperion Books for Children.  It has covered the Disney Magazine and Disney book apps.  It also includes imprints for ESPN and Marvel, and can be expanded to include Lucasfilm and Fox.

Under this division, I would like to focus on Marvel Comics.

Marvel Comics started in 1939 as Timely Comics publishing characters such as Captain America and the Human Torch, as well as funny animal comics.  By the 1950s, the company had become known as Atlas Comics and had primarily become known for romance, western, humor, war, and adventure comics.  By 1961, Marvel Comics became the name imprint, introducing a wave of superhero throughout the 1960s that have become the popular movie heroes of today.  

Over the decades since, Marvel has experimented in various ways, with all forms of content and format.  It has gone from extreme highs to near bankruptcy.  On August 31, 2009, the Walt Disney Company announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.  

Though Marvel characters are at the forefront of modern pop culture, comics continue to be a dwindling medium.  Therefore, the recommendations below will be focused on regrowing the comics audience.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Expand out of the Direct Market - In the early years of comic books, comics were available in newsstands and drugstores.  They were a mass market publication, returnable like magazines.  This is why they sold millions in the golden age - comics were available at 10 cents on every street corner.  Since the 1980s, comics have moved almost exclusively to the direct market.  Comic book shops and the like.  Stores that sell only comics to comics fans.  This saved comics then, but it is time to move beyond the direct market to save them again. Digital is helping, particularly with tablets at the appropriate size for the comic form.  But comics need to move back to where the customers are.  Walmarts, Targets, grocery stores, convenience stores.  The Distinguished Competition has expanded into Wal-mart with exclusive reprint collections with new material from top creators.  Marvel needs a similar program to capitalize on the popularity of their characters now.
  • Continue to Explore the Boundaries of Digital - Digital above provides a great access to a large customer base, with no limitation on stock and lower production costs.  The exploration of digital only or digital premier series should be continued, though at a lower initial cost.  
  • Find ways to bring the price of an individual comic down - We’re approaching $5 for a single issue of a comic.  That’s not for a whole story, that’s for, often, one piece of a six part story.  The cost of comics has risen astronomically, from it’s 10 cent days.  And $5 is  getting extreme, when there are other companies and series that can keep the cost at $3 an issue.  The value ratio has to get back to a better level, whether through the lower cost at $3 or through more content in the single issue.  Maybe it's also time to explore new paper stock.
  • Bring all Disney imprints under Marvel Comics - Currently, the kid friendly comics containing Disney characters and even Marvel heroes are being licensed to and published by other comic companies.  There is no reason this should continue.  Any comic produced of a Disney property should run through Marvel Comics.  Disney characters like Scrooge McDuck, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy have had great success worldwide as comic books.  It just should be under the Marvel or Disney banner, not Joe Comics or IDW.  If it is production related cost issues, that should be addressed and fixed.
  • Limit the number of titles published a month - There is no need to overwhelm the racks with 52 titles like a month Distinguish Competitor did.  Forty titles still comes out to 10 a week.  It would be better to have a more focused line of titles that could be picked up in larger numbers by readers than a bunch of collectors that pick up only one a month.
  • Rethink the numbering schedule - It may be time to adapt a more "season based" schedule, starting over with a number one for each year, each storyline, etc.  Legacy numbering could be kept just for indicia and for legacy, but it does not convey any information to the reader.  Numbering based on a storyline would clearly indicate to readers how to follow the title, plus allowing for a greater number of jumping on points (given the already increasing number of new issue number ones).
  • Bring back the anthologies - It's time for continuing titles like Marvel Comics Presents, Journey Into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish.   Opportunities to try out new talent.  New stories.  Lesser known characters.  Perhaps digital only, or digital first.  A place for mini-series, or short stories.  A place to experiment.  I see this as the equivalent of the shorts program.  Every division needs an experiment division.
Imprints I would keep alive through Marvel Comics:
  • Marvel - for the well known superheroes, Lucasfilm properties
  • Disney - for Mickey and Friends, Pixar, Disney Animated, and Disney Kingdoms stories
  • Epic - for creator owned, experimental, and non-franchise related
  • Max - For the harder-edged, adult comics - crime, horror, and the like
Hopefully, with these adjustments, comics could begin to thrive again.  'Nuff said!

Next in the series - the penultimate entry, regarding other proposed acquisitions.

No comments:

Post a Comment